The first U.S. cruise ship in nearly 40 years crossed the Florida Straits from Miami and docked in Havana on Monday, restarting commercial travel on waters that served as a stage for a half-century of Cold War hostility.
Miami – Shortly after 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, the 704-passenger Adonia luxury ship pushed off its moorings at PortMiami, signaling the beginning of the first cruise from Miami to Cuba in more 50 years. Passengers lining the ship’s top deck waved goodbye to the port employees, relatives, and the crews of television reporters gathered outside terminal J, where the Adonia had been parked. A soft warm breeze mingled with the sunny, clear Miami sky.
On Monday, the cruise pulled into Havana Harbor, officially restarting commercial travel on waters that served as a stage for a half-century of Cold War hostility.
A day earlier, cruise enthusiasts from Miami to Mexico City eager to take part in the historic maiden voyage lined up at the entrance to the terminal. Among the travelers were Isela and Mauricio Calatuyad, a mother and son from Mexico, who booked the cruise last week shortly after Carnival Corp. officially green lit the seven day excursion to the communist country.
Carnival Cruise Line's Adonia became the first U.S. cruise ship in Havana since President Jimmy Carter eliminated virtually all restrictions of U.S. travel to Cuba in the late 1970s.
Dressed in a baseball cap, black photographer’s jacket, jogging pants, and a long sleeve t-shirt with a world map printed on it, Mauricio Calatuyad told Fox News Latino taking a cruise to Cuba has been a lifelong dream because his father’s parents were born on the island.
“I had already reserved our spots, but it took a little time to convince my mother to go with me,” Calatuyad. “I bought them almost at the last minute. Cuba is in our blood even though we are Mexican. And there’s a lot of history between both countries, as well as Miami and Cuba.”
More than 10 days ago, the cruise, which is sailing under Carnival’s new brand called Fathom, appeared to be headed for an indefinite delay due to a decades-old law in Cuba that banned Cuban Americans who were born on the island from entering or leaving the country aboard a vessel. A pair of Miami Cubans filed a class action lawsuit against Carnival and Fathom alleging the companies were violating their civil rights by going along with the Cuban policy. Cuban Americans also protested the ban and some politicians threatened to block the cruise from happening.
Soon after, Carnival announced it would not go to Cuba until it changed its law. On April 22, the government obliged and subsequently, the lawsuit was dropped. The seven-day itineraries to Cuba, which start at $1,800 per person, sold out quickly. According to a Carnival spokesperson, about a dozen passengers born in Cuba, including several company executives, are making the inaugural trip, which includes stops in Havana, Santiago de Cuba, and Cienfuegos.
Calatuyad said opening up travel from the U.S. to Cuba is necessary for people from both countries to understand each other better. “This is very historic,” he said. “I’m hoping this is the first of many more cruises to Cuba.”
Other passengers concurred with Calatuyad. James and Jean Thrall, a couple from Boston, said cruises to Cuba are long overdue. “We learned about that it might be happening last September,” Jean Thrall said. “We were probably among the first ten people to book. At first, the company had no idea what they were doing. They didn’t have a very good plan, nor did they have license.”
She said Fathom has done a good job of getting its act together in the last week. “We’re eager guinea pigs for the cruise line,” said James Thrall. “We are still very excited.”
Antoinette Rowe, a retiree from Jacksonville, Florida, said she found out about the Cuba cruise while on another cruise last October in central Europe. “I love the Latin culture,” Row said. “This was an opportunity to immerse myself in something that was untainted. I have seen what democracy has done in China, Singapore and South Africa.”
Rowe told her friend Muriel Lites about the cruise. The 84-year-old retiree said she strongly remembers the 1961 failed Bay of Pigs invasion and the more than 50 years of isolationism that followed. “It’s a shame that we have been cut off from the Cuban people for so long,” she said. “This is a people to people exchange. And I want to be able to talk to them.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Francisco Alvarado is a freelance journalist in South Florida.